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Breakthrough settlement in Oregon

New union achieves a deal to crow about

THE UNITED ACADEMICS of the University of Oregon capped 10 months of bargaining for a first contract with a deal that might be among the best in the nation. The reason: The union, which represents both tenure-track and nontenure-track faculty, saw that its best interests were served by securing benefits that elevate the conditions and status of all.

Thus, the contract, covering 1,800 faculty, librarians, research assistants, postdocs and other academic employees, provides average salary increases of 11.75 percent over the course of the two-year agreement and includes robust protections of academic freedom, free speech and participation in shared governance for all.

In addition, it clarifies policies that many faculty feel have been applied arbitrarily in departments across the university, depending on who was department chair.

The protections for adjuncts and nontenure-track faculty in the contract are significant. For example, nontenure-track instructors can get one-year extensions on their contracts for their first four years, then two-year extensions for the next two periods, then three-year extensions upon receiving a promotion. That security can be extended to adjuncts who have been hired by the university for three years running in the same position. Formerly, they were let go after three years with no promotion. Now, they automatically become career nontenure-track instructors.

Nontenure-track faculty who work less than half time get fringe benefits. Adjunct faculty who work 0.5 full-time equivalent get health and fringe benefits too, ending the practice of departments setting work hours below 0.5 FTE to avoid providing health insurance coverage.

“The contract means a lot for nontenure-track faculty,” says Ron Bramhall, a senior instructor in the Department of Management who has been teaching full time at the university for 10 years. “We are two-thirds of the teaching faculty. Now we get to start feeling like first-class teachers.” He notes that the UO faculty “culture of mutual respect” led to a strong negotiating posture at the bargaining table.

The settlement “is the culmination of months of collaboration among faculty across the campus and across all ranks and classifications,” says Susan Anderson, a professor of German and member of the United Academics bargaining team. “With all that feedback and discussion, the contract already represents a full spectrum of voices in this new working relationship.”

The United Academics, which is jointly affiliated with the AFT and the American Association of University Professors, will take a ratification vote on Oct. 8.

Reprinted from the Fall 2013 issue of On Campus.